The zillion-channel TV universe is even larger than most people realize.
Yes, there are the broadcast networks … and cable … and streaming. But there’s also a labyrinth of digital channels. They deliver old shows, old movies and – occasionally – something new.
Meet “Johnson” (shown here), a new drama (with some comedy) on the Bounce digital channel. “I saw a void,” Deji LaRay, the creator and one of the stars, said in a video conference.
Yes, even with a zillion shows out there, he felt something was missing. “We haven’t seen ourselves represented onscreen, in an honest way, for a long time.”
He’s talking about Black men. A modest number of shows – from “Girlfriends” to “Being Mary Jane” – have focused on the regular lives of Black women; fewer have focused on men.
LaRay has been a TV actor for a quarter-century, often playing cops. He was a crooked one for three early episodes of “Greenleaf,” an honest one (helping the protagonist) for six seasons of “Bosch.”
But he also did something that has worked for Sylvester Stallone and others: Write your own show.
LaRay wrote a 2007 movie (“Neighborhood Watch”) and a 2015 pilot film (“G Code”). And in 2014, he wrote a pilot about four Atlanta friends, unrelated but each with the surname Johnson.
Word about the script got around, Thomas Q. Jones said. In 2017, Jones bumped into LaRay and learned he was the writer: “I said, ‘What’s up with “Johnson”? I’ve been asking about you.’”
Jones brought a much different perspective. He spent a dozen years as a pro-football running back; including five (three with the Jets, two with the Bears) in which he topped 1,000 yards rushing.
Now he helped mold “Johnson,” which drew attention from several prominent actors. Tom Wright didn’t take a role, but did pay for half the pilot film. D.L. Hughley took a small role as Uncle Eugene Johnson, a radio personality. And Cedric the Entertainer co-produced it through his company.
The show ended up at Bounce, a busy piece of the digital world.
That began when the switch to high-definition gave each TV station room for sub-channels. A Channel 7, for instance, had channels 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4 available. PBS filled the space with separate networks – Kids, World, Create – but most other stations simply had them available.
So a tangle of micro-networks was born. Most have old comedies – classic (“MASH,” “Roseanne,” “Jeffersons”) and not (“Green Acres”) – or dramas or movies or other. Buzzr has old game shows, Grit has cowboys, Heroes & Icons each night puts three “Star Trek” series back-to-back.
Only a few try the extra expense of new shows. There’s Court TV and Weather Nation and Bounce.
Launched a decade ago by Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III, Bounce aims at Black adults. It starts weekdays with reruns of Wendy Williams, “Judge Faith,” “Bernie Mac” and “Law & Order,” then switches to movies. But it has also tried new shows – several comedies plus the drama “Saints & Sinners,” set in a Baptist church, which recently finished its fifth season.
Now “Johnson” joins that group, with new episodes on Sundays, plus reruns. The show is pro-female, LeRay said – “I grew up with a strong Black mother, strong Black sisters, cousins, aunts” – but its focus is on four mismatched guys, friends for decades.
He plays Greg (in sunglasses here), who has a commitment problem; Jones is Omar (in leather jacket), who accidentally attracts the woman his friend Keith (Philip Smithey, far right) covets. Derrex Brady (far left) plays Jarvis, married to a white woman.
Jarvis (a real-estate salesman) and Keith (a photographer) are struggling in their careers
Smithey said he easily relates to the naive and sensitive Keith. “I wish I had these brothers when I was growing up …. I felt like he does, but I didn’t have the back-up.”
– Bounce is on digital channels, reaching 81 percent of TV homes; see www.bouncetv.com.
– It’s also on Dish, Channel 359.
– “Johnson” is 9 and 9:30 p.m. Sundays, rerunning at midnight and 12:30 a.m. It opens with two new episodes on Aug. 1, then has one new one, running twice.
– The opening episodes rerun often, including 2 p.m. Monday, 8 p.m. Wednesday and noon Aug. 8.